A depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.


Michael Curtiz


Norman Reilly Raine (screen play), Æneas MacKenzie (screen play) (as Aeneas MacKenzie) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 5 Oscars. See more awards »





Complete credited cast:
Bette Davis ... Queen Elizabeth
Errol Flynn ... Earl of Essex
Olivia de Havilland ... Lady Penelope Gray
Donald Crisp ... Francis Bacon
Alan Hale ... Earl of Tyrone
Vincent Price ... Sir Walter Raleigh
Henry Stephenson ... Lord Burghley
Henry Daniell ... Sir Robert Cecil
James Stephenson ... Sir Thomas Egerton
Nanette Fabray ... Mistress Margaret Radcliffe (as Nanette Fabares)
Ralph Forbes ... Lord Knollys
Robert Warwick ... Lord Mountjoy
Leo G. Carroll ... Sir Edward Coke


This period drama frames the tumultuous affair between Queen Elizabeth I and the man who would be King of England, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. Ever the victor on the battlefield, Devereux returns to London after defeating Spanish forces at Cadiz. Middle-aged Elizabeth, so attracted to the younger Devereux but fearful of his influence and popularity, sends him on a new mission: a doomed campaign to Ireland. When he and his troops return in defeat, Devereux demands to share the throne with the heir-less queen, and Elizabeth, at first, intends to marry. Ultimately sensing the marriage would prove disastrous for England, Elizabeth sets in motion a merciless plan to protect her people and preserve her throne. Written by IMDb Editors

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A Man of Iron- A Woman of Fire. (Print ad- Fort Dodge Messenger-Chronicle, ((Fort Dodge, Iowa)) 20 March 1940) See more »


Approved | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


The relationship between Elizabeth and Essex bordered on the incestuous. His maternal great-grandmother Mary Boleyn was a sister of Anne Boleyn, mother of Queen Elizabeth I, making him a cousin of the Queen, and there were rumours that his grandmother, Catherine Carey, a close friend of Queen Elizabeth's, was Henry VIII's illegitimate daughter. Moreover, his mother was married to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the Queen's most beloved courtier and rumoredly her secret lover. See more »


Essex twice compares Elizabeth to her father, speaking of Henry VIII as if from personal acquaintance, though Henry died in 1547 and Essex was born in 1565. See more »


Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex: [after being slapped hard by Queen Elizabeth I] I would not have taken that from your father the King; much less will I take it from a king in petticoats!
See more »

Crazy Credits

The Warner Brothers shield is in the form of an English coat of arms. This logo was seen in Errol Flynn's previous film The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). See more »


Referenced in Press Gang: Holding On (1991) See more »


Love's Answer
Lyrics by Walter Raleigh
Sung by Olivia de Havilland (dubbed by Faith Kruger)
Lute playing dubbed by an anonymous lutist
See more »

User Reviews

Bette and Errol: a strange matchup that works
24 September 2001 | by regina989See all my reviews

Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, the Queen and King of Warner Bros. in the late '30s and early '40s, only worked together a couple of times. "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" is their major effort, and it's a very good one. Warners pulled out all the stops for this Technicolor extravaganza, and Curtiz directs with a sure hand. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's music is wonderful. The real star of the show, though, is Ms. Davis as Queen Elizabeth. With all the on-screen Elizabeths to choose from, you won't forget hers. I had just watched "The Sea Hawk" where Errol faces another great Elizabeth, Dame Flora Robson (even though they only have a couple of scenes together, but Errol seems much more at ease in that picture).

Bette made no secret of her dislike for the freewheeling, womanizing, undisciplined Flynn, and criticized his performance opposite her for years afterwards (although if memory serves she eventually relented and admitted he wasn't bad). Some may take issue with the pacing of the movie, but Bette's so good, Errol's so handsome, and the dialogue so adult and refreshing (and don't forget the reliable villain Henry Daniell), you can't help but like it.

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Release Date:

11 November 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Essex and Elizabeth See more »


Box Office


$1,075,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Vitaphone)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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